We had friends over for lunch on Saturday and my son said he was a night owl. She smiled and asked him ‘oh how late do you stay up?”
“Last night I went to sleep at 4:00 am.” It is true that I wanted to jump across the table and stop him before the words came out. And then once they did I wanted to justify them away. Tell them all this did not happen on a regular basis, it was a one off, but that would have been a lie. All I could do is smile and nod. I know enough to remember supporting who he is in the world is more important that avoiding the judgement others may have on our choices.
My nine year old has found a sleep pattern that works well for him and it has been pushing my buttons. For years he and I went to bed together. I would give him a massage tell him a “pretend story” and we would both fall to sleep. Then about 6 months ago, he started bringing the iPad to bed instead. He wanted to watch videos cause it was becoming harder for him to fall asleep just with at story and a snuggle. Then he stopped feeling ready for bed when I was ready for bed. I fought this for sometime. Stretching my own going to bed time. Thinking of ways to lure him in to my cozy dark room. He wasn’t having any part of it. He was finding a rhythm of his own.
There were nights along the way when I would wake from my slumber see it was 3:00 am and demand that he shut down his computer and come to bed. Or I would begin making noise in the room when I thought he was sleeping to late in to the day, hoping to wake him and truthfully hoping to make him sleepier so that he would go to bed earlier the next evening. For the record that never worked. He slept when he was tired and woke up when he was rested.
My oldest son has a similar sleep pattern to mine. So I had not bumped in to this difference in my parenting until this point. My nine year old was adamant that he was just listening to his body. The more comments I sent his way about his sleep pattern the more determined he became. One night I said “but I miss the cuddles we used to have together. I miss falling a sleep with you.” He heard me and walked out of the room to return to his game, with his friends. He quickly came back in tears.
“I miss it too mom. But I also want to play with my friends.” And then he lay in my arms and wept. I had crossed a line. And I felt terrible. All I could do is apologize to him, promise that I will only respect and support the choices he is making, for himself. He is much better then I at being in a moment and living it out fully. He is way better then I at listening to the cues of his body and responding to them. Because of the way we have created space for him to do this very thing. I mean it’s one of my hopes for him. My resistance to his sleep pattern was only creating distance between the two of us. So I promised to shut up.
Since stopping my comments and my subtle manipulations, I have come to know things about my son, I didn’t know before. He has opened up and shared with my how his brain works. Explaining the speed with which information is always traveling through it. How falling asleep is hard because the thoughts are so busy. “I need to talk to my friends at the end of the day so I can share all my ideas with them.” He explained all of this with a sense of pride, a knowing of himself. He has strategies that he uses each day, to calm down his mind so he can find his way to sleep. He has relationships outside of me that are supporting him in his journey. These are super positive things.
When it comes to waking up early to go somewhere or to get things done he has told me “I get stressed when you say I should go to bed early so I can get up in the morning. Can you just wake me up 30 minutes before we have to go?” It’s hard to be quiet on this one. I have a long conversation that goes through my head about the need for sleep, the grumpiness that can come with lack and sleep and so on. But my son is standing before me explaining, I have a boundary, please will you respect it. So I do. I respect him and I wake him no matter what time he has gone to sleep. And you know what, he gets up each time and joins us for the day. In doing that he finds his own lines. His own sense of being tired or less able to have fun, he decides if next time it’s worth going to sleep earlier. He learns through is own trial and error. Like all the learning that happens for my boys, when they learn it on their own, of their own choosing, it sticks.
Last night I said to him “I’ll try and stay up late with you tonight?” He said that he didn’t mind if I did or did not. He explained he liked being up on his own, having some time by himself. I had never considered that part. That he might enjoy some solitude, a gift I myself have been enjoying now that the house is predictably quiet each morning. He also shared, “When dad’s done his racing he sits down and we talk. So you get me in the day and dad gets me in the night.” He had a way to get one on one time with each of us and he treasured it. So I went to bed and left him to his happiness.
So once again, through my own trial and error I have learned that when I put our relationship above my own fears, I draw myself closer to knowing the people my children are. Dropping out of fear and in to my own heart space creates opportunity for a stronger connection. And trusting in my children creates a foundation of courage that will be with them long after they walk away from my arms.